Stigmatomma oregonensis workers do to a centipede what Yoshimura & Fisher did to Amblyopone: subdue it before chopping it into pieces. Ouch!

This post is a heads-up to those of you who pay attention to taxonomy: the dracula ant genus Amblyopone isn’t what it used to be.

A paper out today in PLoS ONE by Masashi Yoshimura and Brian Fisher has taken the genus and cleaved it in three. Species are now divided between a much smaller Amblyopone and two resurrected older genera, Stigmatomma and Xymmer. Yoshimura and Fisher’s action should not surprise anyone who follows ant evolution research, as Amblyopone has long been suspected as being an arbitrary assemblage of unrelated forms. Consider this figure from the 2006 Ant Tree of Life paper:

Molecular data suggest paraphyly of Amblyopone. Adapted from Figure 1 in Brady et al (2006).

In keeping with recent trends in myrmecology, Yoshimura & Fisher’s work is based on the morphology of male ants. The new scheme reflects a more sophisticated understanding of male form in this group, and it is certainly pleasing to have their findings correspond with earlier suggestions from genetic data.

For those of us in North America, the practical consequence of this paper is that our common dracula ant Amblyopone pallipes reverts to the older name Stigmatomma pallipes. Our more senior myrmecologists will likely adapt to the change like a comfortable pair of old shoes. I, on the other hand, will be spending the rest of the afternoon writing out “Stigmatomma pallipes” until it sinks in.

Stigmatomma pallipes

Yoshimura M, Fisher BL (2012) A Revision of Male Ants of the Malagasy Amblyoponinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) with Resurrections of the Genera Stigmatomma and Xymmer. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33325. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033325

Brady SG, Schultz TR, Fisher BL, Ward PS  (2006) Evaluating alternative hypotheses for the early evolution and diversification of ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 103:18172–18177.